Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017)

LEGO has taken the world by storm, and in recent years, they’ve been the inspiration for two of the freshest kid flicks out there: 2014’s The LEGO Movie, voiced by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, & Will Ferrell, and The LEGO Batman Movie, released earlier this year and voiced by Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Rosario Dawson, & Ralph Fiennes. Just a listing of those names shows the makers aren’t hurting for talent, and so far, the “LEGO formula” has been a huge hit. Now, just seven months following LEGO Batman, we have the third LEGO theatrical film, based on the hugely popular LEGO playsets, NINJAGO. With its not easily hidden resemblances to Power Rangers & Voltron, even those completely unfamiliar to the sets can get an idea of what their getting, but rest assured, the final product is even crazier than that (it is LEGO, after all). Still, is this film a satisfying continuation of the madcap fun we now expect from these films?

The setup is simple: Ninjago is a city, as well as the name of its ninja protector force, led by Master Wu (charmingly brought to life by Jackie Chan); in the bustling multicultural city, they patrol by piloting huge mechs against the constant barrage of attacks from Garmadon (voiced terrifically by Justin Theroux), the four-armed, red-eyed, volcano-dwelling villain, and his minions. With his seemingly daily advances, it’s a wonder the Ninjago team can even get their homework done. Oh wait? Did I mention they are all teenagers…with attitude? How’s that for relatability, Power Ranger fans?!? Oh, and Garmadon? He’s the absentee father of Lloyd (Dave Franco) on the team. [insert drama here] The film centers largely on the relationship (or lack thereof) between these two, and it’s all the better for it.

So far, the LEGO movies have a thread of isolated characters being drawn into families and support systems, but here, it’s almost the reverse. Lloyd has a good relationship with everyone around him, except the one person he wants the most to be close to: his father. We watch as the two go from the absolute rock-bottom to something, anything resembling a functional relationship, whether that be a good or bad thing for them both. With many children experiencing a lack of fathers in their real life, I know it’s a subject worth looking into (as I experienced something like it myself). Still, the humor, in relation to something so personal for folks, might come on a bit too thick at times, especially early on, but once the film gets going, it doesn’t feel as bad.

Visually, it seems the LEGO films are getting crazier every time. Nothing will ever surprise us as much as the first movie, and Batman jolted us by its take on a very familiar character. Still, this film, with its obvious action roots, is no slouch, and at times, there is so much going on, that it can be hard to follow. Chaotic is a kind phrase, but the film is always thrilling at those times. Many come to these LEGO movies for the laughs, to which I can say that Ninjago delivers…mostly. I avoid delving too deeply into the plot, but the whole story arc is worthwhile, even if many laughs just don’t land. Maybe it’s my unfamiliarity with the property, but I couldn’t “buy in” as well to everything as I could with the prior two LEGO films. Did I enjoy myself? Absolutely, especially watching anything involving Jackie Chan and Justin Theroux. Still, this was most definitely my least favorite of the LEGO films, thus far. While it seems a bit crazy to think that I would accuse a movie based on toys to be made to sell toys, this one feels less able to stand on its own than the others. I enjoyed it, but I don’t see myself coming back to it often.

Content-wise, the humor here is expectedly edgy, but it never crossed any lines. I don’t remember any language or sexual content. Being as action-packed as it is, there is cartoon violence, but again, there is nothing excessive. In regards to a Christian message, I took away from the film that we don’t have control over the choices of others, but we should never lose hope in people. The spark for change comes from within, but sometimes, we have to be open  to others, so that they can truly see themselves, as well. It’s touching stuff, especially for those from broken homes, and that alone is worth a watch.

While I may have been let down on some levels by this film, The LEGO Ninjago Movie still offers a good time, even for those with no familiarity with the toy line. If you’re looking for a bombastic movie with some great and absolutely crazy moments for your family, then don’t miss it.

SCORE: 6.75 (out of 10)

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